Lincolnshire couple lead High Court battle over humanist marriages

A Lincolnshire couple will head to the High Court in London next week, where they will be the lead claimants in a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales.

Chris Sanderson and Kate Harrison, from Louth.
Chris Sanderson and Kate Harrison, from Louth.

Their case is being supported by Humanists UK, which has campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriage for many decades.

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson, from Louth, have been together for 14 years.

They’re both retired from their primary careers, Kate from being a nurse and Christopher from being a project manager in the water industry.

Kate is also a long-standing humanist celebrant and trained humanist pastoral carer.

The couple want to get married in a humanist ceremony which embraces their deeply held humanist beliefs. They say they will not get married until humanist marriages are legally recognised.

Kate and Christopher are among six couples taking the legal challenge to the High Court next week, in a bid to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, as is the case for humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for religious weddings across the United Kingdom.

Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Parliament gave the government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but no government has used it.

In the time since then, over 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, 
either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony in order to gain legal recognition, or not be legally married.

The six couples challenging this discrimination lodged their case at the High Court in November last year.

Permission for the case to be heard was granted by the court in early March, with the full hearing due to happen on July 7-8.

After permission was granted, the claimants offered to negotiate with the government over possibly settling the case, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but this offer was reportedly refused.

For Christopher and Kate, and the other claimants, it is now hoped that the case will lead to a change in the law in time to help deal with a backlog of demand for marriage services that is now occurring due to the pandemic.

Kate and Christopher said: “We believe that the act of getting married is profoundly personal and having a humanist ceremony is central to our identities as humanists. “It is highly discriminatory that if you have a religion you can get married in a way of your choosing which is compatible with your beliefs, but if you are non-religious, the state has a complete monopoly over how you get married.

“With us now both in our 60s, we feel it is increasingly important to legally reflect our lasting commitment to one another, and that means a humanist marriage.

“We are very happy to be taking a case that will help to create a fairer law for people like us.”

Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said: “Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country.

“We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case. “As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry, and we hope this case will lead to reform.”